Archive for February, 2011

Ten Years of London Protest at 6 Billion Ways

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

6 Billion Ways is an free event next Saturday in Bethnal Green that explores through “discussion, ideas, action and the arts” the resistance around the world to climate change, financial crisis, and other problems that have as their basis the greed of the rich.

As their web site says:

“people are fighting back. From the grassroots to the global, communities and movements are imagining and creating a world where people and planet come before profit, and democracy trumps corporate power.”

I was delighted to be invited to show my work documenting some of that fight-back over the years through events in London, many of which reach out across the world, through my pictures on My London Diary.

At the moment it’s a rush to try and select the pictures, with so much to choose from – more than 50,000 pictures from something around a thousand events over the years that My London Diary covers.

© 2000, Peter Marshall
Jubilee 2000 final event, Westminster, Dec 2000

The pictures on it start in 1999, and among the events I photographed that year were several, mainly organised by Jubilee 2000, calling for debt relief, as well as Kurds calling for the release of their national leader, Abdullah Öcalan, a solidarity protest with the people of East Timor and a protest calling for NATO to get out of the Balkans.

© 1999, Peter Marshall
Westminster, June 1999

Over the years I’ve photographed the big national protests in London, but also many smaller events, some about local issues – for example against the closure of Queens Market in Upton Park, local protests about what are really national issues, including recent anti-cuts protests and many also protests about events in other countries.

© 2006, Peter Marshall
Save Queen’s Market: Women’s March, Oct 2006

Walking around London the various blue and other plaques on many of our buildings reveal the long tradition of this country upholding political freedom and giving refuge to those who would lead the liberation of their own countries across the world. It is a record somewhat tarnished in recent years, but it still seems true that protests take place in London about events around the world, and that many people from around the world who have had to flee their own countries protest here.

In a post that should appear shortly on the 6 Billion Ways blog I wrote:

So far in 2011 as well as local marches against the cuts in Islington and Hackney, UK Uncut actions, students protesting the loss of EMA, protests against unfair testing for disabled benefits, against privatisation of Royal Mail, calling for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo,  I’ve also covered protests calling for freedom for Kashmir and Khalistan, opposing cuts in the BBC World Service, solidarity with the Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and more – including a pillow fight against unsuitable high-rise development in Walthamstow.

Of course only a relatively small number – perhaps around 50 – of my pictures will be shown on the projection loop at Rich Mix during  6 Billion Ways and you can see so much more on the web.

Southbank Panoramas

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I’d met a friend at the Festival Hall (RFH) to talk about an art project we have been planning together, and as we left I walked up to Waterloo Bridge with her I saw the wide expanse of sky and clouds with the sun just sinking, and knew it was just about time to take some of the panoramas that I had been talking with her about making around the cultural buildings in this area.  I had an hour or more to kill before a lecture I wanted to hear a mile or two away, which was just about the right amount of time.

So I made my goodbyes and started by taking a view from the top of the bridge, though this wasn’t really what I had in mind. But it did look as if it would make a good picture and was hard to resist.  Then I wandered back towards the RFH as I’d had an idea as we walked past earlier, but things had changed a little and the picture I’d thought about wasn’t quite there. But there was another obvious subject, with the sculpture, the yellow stairway, the RFH amd in the distance the London Eye.

But the scenes I was rather more interested in were those that included both interior and exterior views, such as this:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Like the others it was taken using manual exposure and focus using a Nikon 20mm f2.8 on the D700. Some of the images were taken with the camera in portrait mode, others landscape, and between 2 and 5 exposures were combined to give the final panorama using PTGui.  I like to keep things simple, and worked without a tripod, pivoting the camera on a finger placed roughly where I think the rear nodal point should be. It usually works quite well.

You can see a larger version of this image and a few others on My London Diary, ending with a wide-angle view of the Barbican Arts Centre a mile or so away at night, taken a little later in the evening when I had a few minutes to spare before that lecture.

Valentine’s Day Massacre?

Monday, February 21st, 2011

 © 2011, Peter Marshall

The ‘Coalition of Resistance’, an alliance against cuts in public services, had decided to take advantage of St Valentine’s Day to send PM David Cameron a large Valentine card, with the message  ‘Don’t Break Our Hearts’ and inside the text: ‘Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, We love Public Services, Why don’t you?

Unfortunately, when I pulled my flash out of my bag and stuck it into the hot shoe to take the picture above, I turned it on and nothing happened.  The batteries had been fully charged after I’d used them previously, but somehow they had managed to run down inside my bag. Perhaps I’d left the flash on and at some point something had pressed down on the flash test button and it had been flashing away unseen inside the bag.

Of course I carry a spare set of batteries, but there wasn’t time to change them and get that shot of the card, although I might have been able to take one later. The D700 does have a built in flash, but unfortunately that is pretty useless when using a physically large wide-angle lens such as the Nikon 16-35mm (its at least twice as long as any lens covering that range has a right to be) as the lens casts a shadow in the bottom half of the picture.  So I had to shoot by available light, and there was not a great deal around. But atISO 1600 there was enough to get 1/80 at f4.5, though probably it would have been better to stop down a little more to get better depth of field.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

But after that I fitted the spare set and was able to take some pictures using flash, which certainly helped with this one, where the woman holding the balloons would have been in deep shadow without it.

As it got really dark, I was surprised at how little light there really was on Whitehall, one of London’s  best-known streets. Although the street itself was fairly light, on the wide pavement where this protest was taking place it was really rather dim.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

For the picture above without flash at ISO 3200, I needed 1/30 f4.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

And a little later, I was having to work at 1/15 f4 for this image.  Still at ISO 3200, though since I was underexposing by a stop to get some idea of darkness, I suppose that was really ISO6400.

For photographing the speakers I needed a longer lens, and although I took a few at around 2-300mm, the most interesting were using the Nikon 18-105mm on the D300:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

One of the street lights was directly behind the speakers (Paul Mackney in this picture, though I used the same effect on several others) , and some distance away, but by carefully choosing my position I could use it to give some rim lighting. Virtually all the light on his hand and face is from my flash mounted on the hot shoe.  Using ISO 640 with the flash at f5.6 gave me enough depth of field – the focal length for this series of pictures was around 90-100mm – and the shutter speed of 1/60 resulted in just about the right amount of light in the hair.

More pictures at Valentine Protest – We Love Public Services on My London Diary.

Street Photographs

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Yesterday The Observer added a great set of 12 pictures by Picture Post photographer Kurt Hutton* to its web site. In November 1939, shortly after the start of the Second World War, he was sent to Wigan along with two other photographers to photograph George Orwell’s Wigan. (Thanks to EPUK for the link to this in their weekly newsletter.)

It is perhaps surprising that Hutton doesn’t feature in the London Street Photography show, but it does contain some fine work by his fellow PP contributors Humphrey Spender and Bert Hardy, along with an unusually slack image by Felix Man. Also notably absent are Thurston Hopkins and John Chillingworth, and given that this is not really a ‘street photography’ show, perhaps Bill Brandt might have been there too. But of course there wasn’t space to include everyone.

But these Wigan pictures strike me as remarkable for several reasons. Not least that although there was a war on, the original PP caption to one of them included “The authorities asked to have all pictures left with them to be checked up. When the batch was forwarded on to us, this and other pictures on these pages were missing. They were considered unsuitable. We made new prints of some of those missing pictures.”

These pictures evoke their time very powerfully, and remind me of my own childhood. A dozen years later I might have been one of those urchins sitting on the street, although the street on which I grew up was a little more suburban and slightly less bleak. But we played on it much as they did. Two things have changed – there was little traffic and no parked cars, and parents who give their children the kind of freedom that we enjoyed would now be prosecuted for neglect.

But would a photographer dare to take similar images now, when photographing children has become such a suspect activity?  And certainly any photographer taking pictures of the ‘Air Raid Precautions’  would expect to attract the attentions of the law. One unfortunate amateur photographer, physics teacher Rik Rutter, even got stopped by police for photographing a tourist attraction, the London Eye, in January, although now, as the Amateur Photographer report states he has received an apology from Commander David Zinzan of the Met police who confirms he should not have been stopped.

© 2005 Peter Marshall
© Peter Marshall, 2005
London Eye and Houses of Parliament on a typically gloomy London day


*You can see a wider range of Hutton’s work on the Getty Images site which includes the Hulton Picture Library containing work by all the Picture Post photographers, and a search brings up over 3000 pictures. There is also a smaller selection, concentrating on celebrities and a few of his best-known images, available on the GettyImages Gallery site – search for ‘Hutton’.

London Street Photography

Friday, February 18th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Wolf Suschitzky with the red jumper

Last night’s opening at the Museum of London of the show London Street Photography 1860-2010 was a great occasion for London’s photographers, with many of the photographers featured present, although of course those from the earlier sections are long dead. But of more than 70 photographers featured, I was told that 47 are still alive, and quite a high proportion of them were among the guests last night.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Mike Seaborne, Jack Lomond and  Wolf Suschitzky in a weird purple glow

Certainly the oldest among us was Wolf Suschitzky, born in 1912 and still looking well who formally opened the exhibition after a speech by the Museum’s director Professor Jack Lohman in which Mike Seaborne, Senior Curator of Photographs, who together with Curator of Images Anna Sparham put the show together, appeared as Exhibit A. The majority of images in it are from the Museum’s own collection, which Mike has built up tremendously in his years there.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Suschitzky declares the show open

Although Suschitzky was the sole living among the pre-war photographers featured,  most of those in the next period, 1946-79 are still living and still working, and among those at the opening was Roger Mayne, born in 1929 and best known for his pictures of North Kensington in 2004. During our conversation he mentioned the much wider range of his work that many are unaware of, and you can see some of that on his own web site.

1946-79 covers a long period, and some fairly diverse approaches and style, from photographers such as Henry Grant (1907-2004) to Paul Trevor (b1947) and including among others, Tony Ray-Jones, John Benton-Harris and Charlie Phillips.  Grant’s work stylistically would certainly fit him better in an earlier section – and perhaps seems most similar to that of photographers from the early years of the century, while that of some of the others in this section still seems strikingly contemporary. Perhaps the only thing that the work in this era of the show has in common is that the pictures were all black and white, and around the end of the 70s is perhaps the latest date it seemed possible to ignore work in colour.

One section of this is a group of anonymous images from a project carried out by the Richmond and Twickenham Photographic Society around 1962. It is perhaps surprising that none of the authors are known, and the pictures too are rather surprising for a camera club, even (or perhaps especially) one as prestigious as the R&TPS, which has produced at least five presidents of the RPS. Early in my photographic oddysey – around the latter half of the 1970s – I belonged to it myself (and almost got thrown out on sartorial grounds), but with some notable exceptions, the work that appeared regularly in the club was considerably less interesting than this.

The earliest colour image in the show is by Bob Tapper, from 1986, followed by one of mine from 1991, and the most recent black and white in the book (and I think the show) is from 1999, by John Chase, with all of the images from this century in colour, in part a reflection of the switch to digital, but also of the changing nature of the marketplace for photography.

I’ll write more about the show and my thoughts on street photography later – openings, especially ones like this with so many people to talk to (and I didn’t manage to get to talk to everyone I would have liked) are not the greatest times to actually look at the pictures, and the size of this show made it quite impossible for me to properly see it all. But I saw enough to say that this is a show well worth seeing, even if some of the pictures are not street photography (and unfortunately perhaps much current street photography isn’t really street photography any more.)

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Charlie Phillips talking with Cathy Ross from the Museum of London

The show is open to the public from 18 February to 4 September 2011 and entry is free. The book, London Street Photography, published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, ISBN 978-1-907893-09-4, costs £14.99 ($25.00) and contains many of the best images from the show and is due for general publication in March.

The largest selection of pictures from the show I’ve found on line is at The Independent, and includes some of the best (and a few rather less interesting) images.  The Telegraph has a longer piece on the show with 4 images, but manages to say very little, and unfortunately the Museum’s own web site gives it depressingly limited coverage; perhaps the budget ran out?

It was late when I finally left the bar next to the museum to make my way home through the streets of London, but I thought I would take a picture or two on my way to the station.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Valentine Party

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

 © 2011, Peter Marshall

I’m not sure why I missed the inaugural St Valentine street event in 2004, but having arrived at Piccadilly Circus with a climate protest march on 12 Feb 2005 and meeting a few people I knew who were partying there I stayed to photograph it – and I’ve gone back every year since then, largely because this is just such a fun event.

Of course it is a little more than just fun, as in its own way it presents a radical challenge to the capitalist exploitation of our basic human desires. And while I may be a little sceptical about some aspects of the event, I certainly share the desire to “reclaim love” from the tills.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I was able to find the links to these events quickly making use of the index to My London Diary, which I’ve just updated.  I used to laboriously add each event individually to the index page, placing it in a suitable category on the page. It was useful in some ways, but not particularly user-friendly, fine for browsing but not always too helpful for actually finding things. The easiest way to locate entries was by using the browser find function (Ctrl+F.)  But it just took me too long to update, and at the start of 2011, that index only covered to the end of 2010.

A week ago I decided to do something about it and to start a new index from the beginning of 2008, this time designed for simple updating on a monthly basis. It doesn’t use categories but is just as easy to search using Ctrl+F, and – like the rest of My London Diary – is arranged by date.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

There is a fairly full account of this years Reclaim Love party, which for the first time incorporated a trip to Green Park, which has a fine circle of 13 trees we used for the circle at the heart of the event. Thanks to the 10.5mm, which gives a horizontal angle of view of more than 140 degrees you can see 9 of them in the picture above, and the semi-fisheye lens makes the trees curve in to enclose the scene in a rather pleasing effect.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

After the trip to Green Park, when we arrived back at Piccadilly Circus, strong winter sunlight was streaming in at a very low angle, making photography very tricky. Of course flash fill could help a bit, but it was still too much to cope with. As well as the extreme contrast, there is also a huge difference in colour temperature between the warm sunlight and the skylight in the shadows from a clear cold blue sky.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

But I was still pleased with some of the pictures, such as this one of some of the dancing, with the neon in the background providing some appropriate messages (‘love it’ and ‘Be my Valentine’ – not the ‘Hair Loss Centre’) and some striking colour in that shirt (the metallic dress did have some rather tricky reflections and the union jack t-shirt. Of course I was trying to carefully frame Eros at the top of the picture, though it wasn’t too easy with some really vigorous dancing to get things right. The spot in the sky to the right of the little bit of cloud isn’t dust but a helicopter keeping an eye on the event. You can see that the front figure, lit partly by flash, is slightly less warm than the figures behind.

A few minutes later the flash became even more important, both because of the need to stop the action and also as the light levels fell around sunset.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The party also continued well after I left, I think into the early hours, moving later to an indoor location. There are something like 180 pictures of it on My London Diary, because I know that many of those who were there (and in the Facebook group for Reclaim Love where I posted a link) would like to see them. Its rather more than even I would normally post for an event.

Reclaim Love Pavement Party

Solidarity With The Egyptian People

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Photographing the crowd of people who turned up on Saturday for an Amnesty International rally in Trafalgar Square to support the Egyptian people and those in other countries in North Africa and the Middle East currently demonstrating for their freedom was really rather easy. Perhaps too easy to produce my best results – you sometimes need more of a challenge.

One of the advantages of a press card is that it gets you in to the area in front of the crowd at events such as this. Which does have the advantage of letting you photograph the speakers should you wish from a reasonably close distance. But  undoubtedly worthy though the speakers were, none were particularly well-known or particularly photogenic.  But as usual I stood there watching them, looking for signs of life and characteristic gestures, and made sure I got at least one recognisable photograph of most of them with their eyes open.

More interesting is the view that you get of the front row of the crowd, many of whom have come there deliberately to be in the pictures, and glimpses of those behind them.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This was probably my favourite image, shown full frame, though it might benefit from a tiny bit of cropping to remove the hand an part of the face of a photographer at the right of the image who would have been rather less visible in the viewfinder when I took it.

In passing, I’ve always found it interesting that the photographers who work with cameras with the least accurate viewfinders tend to be those most dogmatic about not cropping their work.  The D700 does just add a thin strip of pixels around each edge of what you see in the viewfinder. So when I took the picture that guy at the right would have only had one eye, and the green strip of the edge of the poster at left would have been virtually invisible.

In work like this, where everything is changing, you can never quite frame with millimetric precision in any case. Occasionally I’ll trim just a little here or there that obviously needs it from the images. And just sometimes I’ll be more radical, because sometimes you get caught with the wrong lens on the camera, perhaps the 16-35mm when you really needed a 50mm, but the was clearly no time to even pick up the other body around your neck with a longer lens, and certainly not to change lenses.  Even Henri Cartier-Bresson cropped on occasion (notably that famous leaping man in the Place d’Europe.)

One think that does annoy me slightly about the image above is that the man at the centre of the spider-like group has his eyes closed. In the next frame I took they are open, but the eye-contact between the woman and child has gone, and with it the moment.  It does irritate me, but I’m not sure it makes it a worse picture, possibly even strengthens it.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Working the front of a crowd like this does have its limitations. You take photograph after photograph of the same few people, as you can see if you look at the pictures from the  Global Day For Egypt on My London Diary.

You are also working with a crowd of other photographers, which may sometimes make the job more pleasantly social, but does mean you are all likely to take very similar pictures and can lead to disagreements. On Saturday we had to intercede physically after one photographer, who had been standing back and chatting with a friend rather than taking photographs, violently objected when another photographer walked in front of him to take a photograph.

His was completely irrational  behaviour, and I think reflected more the fact that the attacker realised he had missed an opportunity than anything else. To work together we all try to avoid getting in each other’s way when people are actually taking pictures, but if you are not actually using your camera, you just aren’t there so far as other photographers are concerned.

But it’s always a good thing to try and get away from the pack, at least for some of the time, so I had a good wander around the square, looking for different people to photograph and different ways to approach the event.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

When I saw this on the computer, I thought immediately I should have taken a frame with a longer lens, waiting for the man behind to walk out of the way and concentrating on the woman and the two children. But of course it could not have been the same with the girl peeping over from behind by the time I had waited.  But it does look quite good cropped into landscape format…

Love on the Left Bank from Dewi Lewis

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The 2011 catalogue from Dewi Lewis Publishing (DLP) is worth downloading, if only to see the wide range of work available from this publisher. It includes several books of bodies of work I’ve mentioned here, including some I’ve written about at some length, such as Ed Clark’s Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out, The Animals by Giacomo Brunelli, Vee Speer’s The Birthday Party and many more.  At least one of those pieces I’ve written I’ve never got round to actually publishing, as I’m still waiting for the promised review copy, having written my piece on what I had seen of the work on show, and there are several others I would certainly have reviewed had I received a copy. But I’m just a blogger?

But one of the greatest services that  DLP has given to the photographic community is through the republication of classic works, and the most recent of these is Ed van der Elsken’s 1954 photo-novel Love on the Left Bank, shot in a documentary black and white style.  There is an interesting review that fills in some of the details, particularly about its star, the Australian artist Vali Myers who plays Ann, a bohemian later described by Patti Smith as “the supreme beatnik chick”  around whom the book revolves.

What too is remarkable at the end of the catalogue is a very small section – I think just 17 books – of out of print titles. With some photographic books now going out of print in the blink of an eye, this reflects a real commitment to serving the  photographic community.

Among the other reissues are a couple of classic works by Martin Parr, including his 1986 ‘The Last Resort‘ which really changed him from a photographer into a phenomenon.  Although I felt the power of the work, it reflected an attitude towards the people he photographed that I felt very uneasy about, lacking the kind of respect I’ve always felt essential.

Also in the catalogue is the book London Street Photography 1860-2010 which accompanies the show opening at the Musuem of London later this week.

It includes the work of well-known photographers such as Paul Martin, John Thomson, Humphrey Spender, Bert Hardy, László Moholy-Nagy, Roger Mayne and Tony Ray-Jones as well as the work of many anonymous photographers whose contribution has been just as important in recording the story of the city.

And also includes the work of over 40 other named and still living photographers, and I’m pleased to be one of them, although like I think most I only have a single image in the book.

© 1981, Peter Marshall
Whitechapel, 1981 – Peter Marshall

My picture has been used in quite a lot of the publicity for the show, and although I’ve yet to see it, one of my friends tells me it one of several images on a poster advertising the show he saw in Piccadilly Circus station the other day. You can see some more from the related series of work in Cafe Ideal, Cool Blondes and Paradise revisited on this site, which also links to a larger set on line. The title actually came from a book dummy I put together many years ago following a workshop with Dewi Lewis on book publishing and I hope to publish a greatly revised version through Blurb later this year.

I’m  looking forward to seeing both the show (open to the public from Friday this week – and I’ll post more about it after seeing it at the opening)  and the book London Street Photography 1860-2010, although the reports I’ve heard on the book so far are a little disappointing.

Khalifa For Egypt?

Monday, February 14th, 2011

on Saturday 5 Feb, unlike the previous week, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain were really demonstrating at the Egyptian Embassy rather than around the corner and there were rather more of them than before, more or less filling South Street between Park Lane and the embassy.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

At the front of their demonstration was a low stage with a speaker and set out for the press to photograph was the scene above, with orange clad ‘detainees’ wearing masks that were the faces of Arab Muslim rulers who Hizb ut-Tahrir see as traitors.  Around the necks of these men were orange placards with their names and a short epithet regarding their crimes – Mubarak was described as ‘Israel’s most loyal bodyguard’- and the message ‘The Umma demands Khilafah – Not just a change of face‘.

It was a nicely done piece of theatre, and all of us photographers snapped it up, despite the fast fading light. But it was the kind of thing where we would all get very similar pictures, and I certainly could find little to do to make my pictures different.

These bright orange suits are rather a pain to photograph, at least on Nikon cameras, as the orange colour comes out too intense and too red, as in the image close to the top of this post.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The best way that I’ve found to deal with this is by using a different camera calibration profiles to those supplied with Lightroom . There is something about the theory behind these things on Sandy McGuffog’s Chromasoft blog, and recently Nik Player has posted a zip file with sets of both ‘invariant’ and ‘untwisted’ profiles for the D3/D300/D700 based on the latest ‘Beta 3’  camera profiles for selected Nikon bodies released by Adobe Engineer Eric Chan. I’ve not yet had time to try out these newer profiles, which should do an even better job than the old ‘untwisted’ profiles I wrote about some time ago and which I used for the above image.

More about the demonstration at Hizb ut-Tahrir at Egyptian Embassy on My London Diary.

E3 Grime

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Thanks to dvaphoto for the news that Simon Wheatley’s Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time of Grime was published by Northumbria University Press based in Newcastle at the start of the year. I wrote about his work with young Londoners in Lambeth and Bow when Magnum in Motion published a fine audiovisual presentation Inner City Youth, London on his work in 2006  (he joined Magnum as a nominee in 2005, and his work is still on their site although he left in 2008.)

The Don’t Call Me Urban web site is well worth a look, and as well as still images includes a video by Wheatley made on the streets of Bow with some of the ‘Grime’ artists who he got to know and who let him share and photograph some of their lives. The video and his photographs are a very direct and honest look at the lives of these young Londoners, perhaps oddly disconnected from their locale, living in a universe that only connects occasionally with the E3 others know.

January’s  Professional Photographer magazine included an interesting interview with Wheatley about the work and his attitudes, including his need to write a lot of text to put the work into context, something I think some photographers fail to appreciate the need for. Without it work often becomes a voyeuristic enterprise. He also gives some idea of his current situation, living in Calcutta and “looking far beyond photography itself” while also “rediscovering a love of photography.”